Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Matt Flynn Earns Start Versus Titans

My oldest son walked into my room at 1:50 AM this morning, telling me his stomach hurt. I told him to go sit on the toilet for a while. About three seconds after sitting on the toilet, he vomited all over the bathroom floor. My wife popped out of bed and immediately started scooping up vomit while I went searching for disinfectant. That qualified as the second worst part of my morning. The first came when I arrived at Seahawks training camp, when I saw the wrong quarterback getting reps with the starters after the coaching staff had a day off yesterday to evaluate the position. It had been so obvious to me that Matt Flynn had outpaced the other quarterbacks thus far, but Pete Carroll started Tarvaris Jackson during the scrimmage on Sunday, and shook my confidence. That confidence was further shaken when I saw Jackson beginning to take first team reps in practice. What the heck am I missing? Jackson has not outplayed Flynn in practice and did not shine last season. I had nearly reached full boil when a lovely lady explained to me that game-planning for the Titans game started tomorrow, and that today's starting QB had no bearing on that game.

No credible analyst will tell you Flynn is going to be a fantastic starting quarterback in the NFL. The measureables simply are not there. He has to prove it on the field. That process started when he signed with the Seahawks, in a situation where he knew he would have competition for the starting role.

It continued when he failed to distinguish himself in OTAs and mini-camp. The uptick came when it was his turn to lead the starters on the second day of training camp. In particular, the moment he took the field in the two minute drill, he looked like a different player. His reads were quick and decisive. His throws were precise and well-timed. You could see his confidence growing as he beat the defense on a few deep balls in 7v7. Then, there was the team drills where he continued to drop passes in and around the defense. At one point, he very subtly pumped his fist after another threaded completion. Flynn knew he was playing well.

He followed it up with a second very strong practice, even as the third string quarterback that day. Things have been more up and down since that time, but neither Jackson or Russell Wilson has done enough to erase the memories of the ceiling Flynn demonstrated.

Carroll announced after practice that Flynn would be getting starters reps the remainder of the week and would get the first half start versus the Tennessee Titans. Nearly everyone on my Twitter timeline this morning assumed Jackson would get the game one start. The leading assumption was that Jackson would start game one, and Flynn would get game two. That's not the way I expect to see the team play out this competition.

The ideal is that the regular season starter gets the bulk of the snaps in training camp. Carroll has admitted that. The most logical approach is to pick mile markers during training camp where the coaching staff can decide whether the depth chart should be shuffled. If there is no reason to change the order, the man on top remains there and gets reps with the starters. My mistake has been that I assumed the staff would use the days off to do those evaluations and make changes. Instead, they waited for the first game. In retrospect, that makes sense. There is a need to build up a game plan with a specific quarterback.

Carroll's stated reason for putting Flynn in the role instead of Jackson is that they know who Jackson is. That may be true, but knowingly limiting the reps of a player you expect to be your starter makes little sense. Would they really need to get a better look at Flynn if Jackson had been clearly outperforming him? The more sensible thing to do would be to give your starter as many reps as possible. After all, that's what Carroll has acknowledged is the ideal situation.

The next decision point will be after the Titans game. An argument could be made to give Wilson that start so that they could see Wilson and Flynn in that role before having to make a final decision for the third pre-season game. The third game is when teams play their starters into the 3rd quarter, and is the last real tune-up before the regular season. Considering the team has already lost precious snaps for whoever their starter is by dividing snaps early on, the best plan would be to stick with Flynn at starter the rest of pre-season unless they believe someone else should be the starter.

They are already making some alterations from the norm by announcing that Flynn will play the whole first half, when starters usually go two series in the first game. Wilson may get the bulk of snaps in the second game, but I'd look for Flynn to remain the starter. Doing that guarantees him starter reps throughout practice, which is arguably more important than the games.

Seattle's running game looks strong. The defense looks elite. They need a quarterback who can make plays on third down, strike for an occasional "chunk" play that alters field position, and makes good decisions with the ball. Flynn outpaces Jackson in every one of those categories based on what I have seen in his two games and handful of practices. He needs to grab this opportunity on Saturday the way he did in that two-minute drill on the second day of camp. He needs to prove to himself, the coaches, and the players that there is no need for a drawn out quarterback competition. The team needs it.




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